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Editorial: The guiding light of history

by Josh Kramer

A few months ago, I received a call from Michael Miller, the director and bibliographer of the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection of the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Libraries.

“Josh, can you make sure to get your grandmother, Alice Kramer, to Fargo on July 31?” he asked.

I assured him I would.

You see, Grandma was one of 19 women interviewed and featured in a new documentary, “Women Behind the Plow,” which honors the contributions of women in agriculture. These women represent multiple generations, who have labored in fields, tended to animals, raised families, lived on farms and continue to participate in their communities.

The video documentary is terrific and invokes nostalgia for me. I got to share many experiences in my youth with my grandma, working and learning alongside her. In watching the video, I felt pride in being a farm kid from Emmons County.

“Women Behind the Plow” brings to life stories of agriculture that transcend time and resonate with nearly everyone who has ever lived on a farm or has a connection to farm life. It is truly a must-see. The broadcast premiere airs on Prairie Public Television at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26, and you can read more about the project in this issue of North Dakota Living.

The great Maya Angelou reminds us, “If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going.” As I reflect and honor my personal heritage, and the agrarian way of life, I also pause to remember other histories that have subsequently shaped the lives of many.

I think of North Dakota history and rural electrification. If you were to look back in our magazine archives, you’d find many stories about electricity lighting up the dark, vast Dakota prairie. You’d feel the excitement lift off the pages, as members recalled where they were and what they were doing when the lights first went on.

Farm families would tell you that lights in the barn took priority over lights in the home, providing better conditions for milking cows, power to separate cream, and coolers to keep milk and cream fresh until it could be sold. No doubt a game-changer at the time, electricity drastically improved quality of life. This new advancement, coupled with the fortitude of individual will, would become the foundation of many other tools and technologies that improved farm life.

Technology continues to advance at a faster rate than ever before. While at first, swift advancements may cause disruption, innovation changes the course of history and makes sometimes unimaginable opportunity possible. But let us never forget to honor and understand our past, and teach future generations, as we work together to prepare for our future.

North Dakota’s electric cooperatives and the North Dakota Living magazine share a deep respect for the past, and we are proud to dedicate this issue to telling a small piece of our state’s history.

Josh Kramer, editor-in-chief of North Dakota Living, is executive vice president and general manager of NDAREC. Contact him at